News  SSMU raises the energy bar

Audit of Shatner building finds room for improvement

On Friday, SSMU executives received the initial results of an audit that measured the Society’s energy consumption. The audit showed how most of SSMU’s energy is consumed through ventilation and heating of cold air. The areas that use the most energy are the Shatner ballroom because of its size, and Gerts Bar, which is open the latest.

BPR, the Quebec-based environmental engineering company that conducted the audit, recommended that SSMU install energy-efficient light fixtures and improve the building’s ventilation systems. The retrofit’s cost is estimated to be more than $410,000, but would be recovered in the long run through reduced electricity and maintenance costs.

“The idea is that you invest a lot of money in the beginning for all the renovations but then it pays itself off in five years through all the money that you save,” said Sarah Olle, VP (Clubs & Services).

The audit was a result of a fall 2009 General Assembly (GA) motion penned by Olle, which resolved that SSMU should “undertake large scale projects” to decrease energy usage in the Shatner building. SSMU’s constitution emphasizes the importance of reducing its environmental impact.

According to Olle, concerns about energy use are “something that students have brought up so many times: our number one environmental footprint is our building”.

SSMU’s focus on improving the sustainability of the Shatner building is also part of “the incredible and influential Five Year Sustainability Plan,” described by Ivan Neilson, SSMU president, at the GA last Wednesday.

The GA motion stated that SSMU’s energy use is “40 per cent higher than the average for Canadian university buildings,” which is 2.87 gigajoules per square metre.

However, the BPR audit found the statistic, which was provided by McGill Facilities, to be an overestimate. According to the audit, the Shatner building uses less energy than McGill had previously claimed. Nevertheless, SSMU is planning to start renovations in the summer of 2011.

The renovations should also be an important bargaining tool for SSMU’s lease renewal negotiations with the University next year. According to Olle, it is in SSMU’s financial interest to renovate their utilities. “[McGill] pays our utility bill…but our rent is based on our utility bill,” Olle said.

SSMU is planning to ask the new Sustainable Projects Fund (SPF) for funding for these renovations and infrastructural changes. SPF was approved in this year’s fall referendum and will make an estimated $840,000 available annually to campus initiatives that promote environmental sustainability.

“This is the perfect pilot project,” stressed Olle. “This is exactly what this study is for. I can’t think of a better way to use the Sustainable Projects Fund than giving back to students through improving their student centre.”

In addition, BPR suggested that Hydro-Québec could provide about $36,000 in subsidies if the building’s environmental conditions were improved.

According to Olle, BPR was hired by McGill to conduct similar tests to the Redpath and McClennan libraries and the McGill Sports Centre, and suggested that SSMU do the same.

McGill sustainability director Dennis Fortune said that McGill is also “proposing to look at five buildings a year for straight energy retrofit.”

A recent audit of the Rutherford Physics Building by McGill Facilities found that replacing light fixtures and installing occupancy sensors could decrease electricity use from lighting by 39 per cent. Fortune remarked, however, that efficiency shouldn’t be the only focus. He commented that the overall energy use is itself an important side of the problem, and that turning off computers or using fewer refrigerators was also necessary to ensure sustainability.

Maggie Knight, SSMU sustainability coordinator, helped to compile a SSMU environment committee progress report, which was released last November.

Knight stressed the importance of an audit: “It’s to take a look at how we’re doing now and what the main issues are. There are a lot of barriers,” she said. “I mean, it’s definitely not a walk in the park, it’s gonna be a challenge, it’s gonna require some dedicated people to really see it through, but I think it can be done.”